Specific phobias are, as the name suggests, ones which centre around specific objects, creatures or situations. The sufferer has a continual and irrational fear of the object, situation or creature, he/she realises that this reaction is illogical but, still feels under threat. However, the sensations of fear which the sufferer experiences are very real and very distressing. Many non-sufferers avoid such things as snakes, spiders, large animals and inanimate objects like edges of railway platforms. However, as a phobia develops, the sufferer will probably avoid pictures, or even saying the name, of his/her particular dreaded object, situation or creature and will almost certainly never go anywhere near them. It is not unknown for carers to have to vet T.V. programmes or cut out articles out of magazines or newspapers in order to protect their sufferer. Thus the sufferer becomes severely handicapped in a similar manner to an agoraphobic. Specific phobias are classified into five different types:
- Animal phobias – These consist of fears of animals such as snakes, mice, or dogs or insects such as bees or spiders. Typically, animal phobias originate in childhood.
- Natural environment type – These phobias consist of fears related to the natural environment such as heights (sometimes referred to as acrophobia), fire, or water, the dark or natural occurrences such as thunderstorms, tornadoes, or earthquakes.
- Blood-injection-injury type – In this category are fears evoked by the sight of blood or seeing someone injured. Phobias of receiving an injection or other invasive medical procedure are also included. These phobias are grouped together because they’re all characterized by the possibility of fainting, in addition to panic or anxiety. Blood-injection-injury phobias can develop at any age.
- Situational type – Situational phobias relate to a variety of situations in which a fear of being enclosed, trapped, and/or unable to exit plays a dominant role. Such situations include flying, elevators, driving, public transportation, tunnels, bridges, and other enclosed places such as shopping malls. Situational phobias tend to develop in childhood or in early adulthood (twenties).
- Other type – This is a residual category for specific phobias not failing into the previous four types. Included here are fears of contracting illness (such as AIDS or cancer), avoidance of situations that might lead to choking or vomiting (for example, eating solid foods), and the fear of open spaces.
Specific phobias are common (most of us have at least one) and affect approximately 10 percent of the population. However, since they do not always result in severe impairment, only a minority of people with specific phobias actually seek treatment. Specific phobias occur in men and women about equally. Animal phobias tend to be more common in women, while illness phobias are more common in men. As previously mentioned, specific phobias are often childhood fears that were never outgrown. In other instances, they may develop after a traumatic event, such as an accident, natural disaster, illness, or visit to the dentist-in other words, as a result of conditioning.
A final cause of this type of phobia is childhood modeling. Repeated observation of a parent with a specific phobia can lead a child to develop it as well.